‘People Getting Too Touchy About Religious, Linguistic Identities’

Ravisher Singh, 24, an education consultant from Jalandhar wonders why people are on a short fuse about their religious or linguistic sensitivities as seen in Fabindia episode lately

I live in Jalandhar and among all Indian states, Urdu words are perhaps used the most either in UP or Punjab. Even for the rest of the country, Urdu and Farsi words have seeped so much into our vocabulary that we unknowingly use them. So it feels sad to see people getting all riled up over the usage of the beautiful language as was seen in the outrage over the recent Fabindia ad.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in people feeling outraged about what they perceive to be either direct or indirect attack on their religion. We see many a follower of Hinduism taking umbrage to how it is being represented be it then the recent Ceat Tyres ad or some other controversies in which people believe Hinduism was targeted.

Be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Sikhs or followers of any other faith, I feel people should do research into the matter/controversy before jumping in with anger. Our generation is all about social media and any outrage gets amplified and spreads really quickly, but we need to take a pause and assess how we really feel about it.

Ravisher feels social media users must avoid knee-jerk reactions

On the other hand there have been oversights in cases of brands. And say even in the non-advertising world, in cases like making a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad when even drawing his image isn’t allowed, one cannot say that followers of Islam shouldn’t feel offended. It depends from case to case and people shouldn’t give knee-jerk reactions.

Even if people are individually intelligent, the collective IQ is questionable. It does not take much time for a group to turn into a mob. The crowd is often led by a person who is intelligent himself and who understands how the idea of nationalism works.

Let us for a second imagine that a brand has some ulterior motive in using a definite script or promoting a hidden agenda. Should our reaction be how we reacted to Fabindia ad, threatening or terrorising them? Not only Fab India, many other brands also have found themselves at the receiving end of public outrage. Some of them give in so easily and don’t stand their ground. There was this outrage over the Myntra logo. People only see what they want to see, and ignore other important things.

ALSO READ: ‘We Know Fabindia Is Not The Target, Muslims Are’

Narrow interpretations of one’s faith leads to fanaticism. I am a follower of Sikhism and I am also a man of logic, which is why blind faith in traditions isn’t my preferred thing. I would rather test a thing or act from all angles before putting my faith in it. The advertising world also needs to take care. We are being bombarded with ads on every platform in every inch of space available, some outrage is bound to be there given the quantity of adverts a person has to watch in a single day.

One should take proper time and analyse a raging issue before expressing one’s opinion. Instead of feeling outraged, it is advisable to understand the issue at hand and look for a solution instead of generating conflict.

How To Train Your Nose To Smell Fake News

Spreading fake news has become a common tool for the vested interests to either effectively malign one’s adversaries or unduly glorify one’s proponent. Chahat Awasthi, a journalism trainee at Cardiff University in the UK, lists a few yardsticks to judge the authenticity of a dubious or doubtful piece of information. Watch and comment:

RAvi Shaknar at PIB

Social Media Rules: Curtailing Whose Freedom?

Few would deny that the multi-millionaires who control social media outlets have garnered more power than is good for them or for ordinary citizens.

At first glance the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 introduced by the Narendra Modi government appears to be a brave attempt, where others have failed, to bring social media giants into line with other forms of publishing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc have always insisted that they are merely platforms on which others publish material and so cannot be held responsible for any content that appears.

Public attitudes towards this hand-washing has shifted with the realisation of how damaging ‘fake news’, misogynistic trolling, racism and pornography can be not only to individuals but also to the body politic.

The advent of ‘social’ media has not only enhanced economic activity but also encouraged freedom of expression. It has democratised communication, bringing both heat and light to public discourse. But that invariably means that there is a dark side. There are plenty who will abuse this freedom and who do not or will not recognise that their rights extend only so far as they do not impose on other people’s. There are limitations to freedom of speech which it may require impartial adjudication in law.

One welcome element of these new Rules is the provision of a complaints mechanism, well-advertised and based in India, so that individuals who are maligned may seek redress.

The basis for such complaints has to be common terms of reference and the suggestion is that social media should comply with both the Press Council of India Code and the Programme Code of the 1995 Cable TV Network Regulations.

But that is one of the first major stumbling blocks. If the platform is not the originator of material how can the operators ensure that user-generated content is compliant? In effect they are being asked to take responsibility for literally moderating all material produced by people who may never have heard of these Codes and certainly will have played no part in devising them.

The new Rules require platform operators to advise users they must not flout the constraints placed on them by such Codes, and to swiftly remove content that does not comply, under orders from a court or a government agency.

And that is another major sticking point.

ALSO READ: Reasons Why State Of Indian Media Is Pliable

While the Rules claim, without irony, to be introducing a ‘self-regulatory system’, ultimate power to both define compliance and determine what is and is not acceptable rests with the government.

This applies as much to professional purveyors of news as it does to user-generated content on social media.

Since it is never difficult to find someone willing to complain about items that are critical or in any way challenging of those in power, this has an almost automatic ‘chilling’ impact on publishers of news and views. Self-censorship is quickly seen as the route to survival, and ‘state security’ quickly supersedes the public interest. Autocratic regimes from Belarus and Egypt to Vietnam and Zimbabwe have demonstrated how effectively that can control the news agenda.

The Cybersecurity Administration of China may illustrate the value to power elites of an overarching regulatory regime, but in the murky world of online communications control of news need not be so overt. Ostensibly Vietnam’s Law on Cybersecurity is designed to prevent harm to ‘national security, social order and safety, or the lawful rights and interests of agencies, organisations and individuals’, but in practice it is designed to keep all online traffic in line with the government’s strictures.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh a draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) has been used since 2018 to clamp down on freedom of expression, with journalists jailed and assaulted for criticising the government. 

Something similar is happening in Myanmar where the military junta, not content with ‘disappearing’ journalists off the street, is working on laws to take charge of online content in its bid to crush opposition and identify its critics.

Many may feel relief that under Modi’s model, social media platforms will be expected to take down offensive or sexualised images, but few will happily concede that the government should determine what constitutes unacceptable or derogatory material. The use of key words to identify problematic copy is one of the easiest ways to monitor and thus control content, especially terms which might refer to government policies.

ALSO READ: Freedom Of The Press In India Is A Myth

The administrators of global social media platforms may not be best placed to handle the subtleties of cultural differences, but almost inevitably partisan government departments are certainly not the best arbiters of what is and is not acceptable in public discourse.

Having government officials determine those limits is seriously problematic, especially for journalists whose key task is to hold the powerful to account and to turn a spotlight onto the corrupt and the criminal. In a society riven by religious, political and caste divisions, the existence of both independent journalism and an independent judiciary is paramount to highlighting and determining disputes.

The Information Technology Rules 2021 may be a brave attempt to tackle issues that are perplexing societies around the world, but they are also a recipe for creeping censorship which requires robust scrutiny and resistance to ensure that a diversity of opinions and debate are able to flourish within and beyond the state.

There has been widespread criticism of Modi’s plan in the West, where efforts to control the internet without affecting online news content have also hit the inevitable obstacles.

The European Union is currently wrestling with the complexities of devising a Digital Services Act that will harmonise protection for citizens and consumers across 27 countries without curtailing press freedom. Journalists’ organisations have been vocal in their opposition to anything that might detract from their ability to scrutinise governments, investigate corruption and expose crime. They will be watching to see how their colleagues in India tackle the same issue.

(The author is a UK-based journalist and Honorary Director of The MediaWise Trust, a journalism ethics NGO)

Not Just Rihanna-Greta, Many Global Figures Back Farmers Protest

Since the news of the Farmer’s Protests in India have started to make the International News, the surge in the support on social media has sky rocketed after celebrities such as  Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and US Vice President, Kamala Harris’s niece have shown their support.

While this has helped the international community become aware and understand better the protests that have been happening in India over the past 5 months there has been some backlash from the Indian authorities.

They issued a statement on Wednesday 3rd February 2021, accusing ‘foreign individuals’ and celebrities of ‘sensationalism’ following Rihanna’s post.

While Rihanna, has helped bring light to the farmer’s protests with her plus 100 million followers and her comment retweeted more than 230,000 times and liked by more than half a million users, she is not the first celebrity to speak out about the New Farm Laws. Take a look below how other celebrities from cricketer Monty Panesar and filmmaker Gurinder Chadha to American actor John Cussack have lend weight to the raging protests.